TAMA - Kyle Stephenson had plenty of options when it came to extending his football career to the collegiate ranks.
He just didn't have that Division I offer.
It was because of that the South Tama County senior decided against several four-year colleges in favor of Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
South Tama County senior Kyle Stephenson, seated center, will continue his football career at Iowa Western Community College after signing a National Letter of Intent with the Reivers. Pictured with Stephenson are his parents Jeff Stephenson and Georgia Zimmerman, and STC football coaches Dustin Peska (special teams), Jay Hoskey (head coach) and Nate Doran (defensive coordinator).
"They have a really good football program and this is the best way for me to get to the Division I level," said Stephenson, who led all of Class 3A with 2,133 yards and 28 TDs last season. "I also like that it is the cheapest option right now, too."
Iowa Western is the defending National Junior College Athletic Association champions. The Reivers also have the attention of several Division I programs, which also played a factor in Stephenson's decision.
"A lot of their players went Division I last year," said Stephenson, who led the Trojans in scoring last year with 186 points. "All of their players get attention from everywhere."
Stephenson's other options included NCAA Division III Central and Wartburg, Division II Upper Iowa and NAIA's Morningside College.
"It was a relief when I finally signed," said Stephenson. "The phone calls get annoying. I was happy to get it over with and I am happy with my choice."
Stephenson said he is one of 11 running backs that will start camp in the fall for Iowa Western. The Reivers brought in 15 tailbacks last year but only five remained after the fall practices were complete.
"I just want to help the team and make some plays," Stephenson said. "I want to get bigger, stronger and faster and get better overall."
Stephenson was one of the best backs in the state last year, earning Class 3A first-team honors from the Iowa Newspaper Association. Aside from leading all of 3A in rushing and touchdowns, he also had 150 yards receiving, 385 return yards and three more touchdowns along the way.
But South Tama County football coach Jay Hoskey said those numbers may not even be Stephenson's most impressive statistic.
"Other than that botched hand-off against Newton, Kyle had zero fumbles and carried it 350 times this season," Hoskey said. "That's a lot of reps. He never lost the ball and that can win you a lot of games. That is why we gave him the ball so much."
Stephenson may be already at the Division I level, but Hoskey said not getting a D-I offer is not entirely his star running back's fault.
"Anymore, to get that big offer, you kind of have to be noticed by your junior year," the Trojan head man said. "He was always a good football player for us, but we just weren't as good around him. He was around a lot better team this year and was allowed to showcase his talents better."
Stephenson was a slot receiver during his junior year and also played defense for the Trojans. With so many running backs on the roster, the versatile Trojan tailback could find a home somewhere else if things don't pan out at running back.
"He catches the ball well and (Iowa Western) runs a lot of spread offense so if he doesn't play RB, he could play slot receiver too," said Hoskey. "He can do something with it when he gets it in space. I think he could also play strong safety in college, too."
In two years, Stephenson wants to be in a position where he has several different options on the table. Growing up a Hawkeye fan, playing for the University of Iowa would be his top choice, but just getting to the Division I level would be mission accomplished.
"He needs to have a good summer and probably has to put on about 15-20 pounds if he wants to play running back at the Division I level," said Hoskey. "You can never be good enough. He just has to keep working."
Before playing for the Reivers, Stephenson will take part in the Iowa Shrine Bowl in July. He reports to Iowa Western one day after that and practice starts on Aug. 1.
"I will miss home a little bit, but I'll get used to it pretty fast," said Stephenson, who said he also considered Iowa Central Community College. "It'll be a lot of fun."
Stephenson plans on majoring in business administration.